District 2, Gilman: Class sizes, money woes district's top issues

Posted: Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Margaret Gilman isn't giving up on lowering the number of students in classes.

The long-time Kenai Peninsula resident has spent two years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education and is running for a board seat for the third time in as many years this fall. She is running unopposed for the three-year term in District 2-Kenai.

Throughout her short tenure on the board, class sizes have been one of Gilman's primary concerns.

And that makes sense.

Gilman, who grew up on the peninsula and attended area schools before going to the University of Notre Dame, spent 12 years teaching in the district.

She is married to Blaine Gilman, an area attorney currently running for a seat on the Kenai City Council. Together, they have four children in the public school system.

"I believe we need the voice of a parent with children in school on the school board," she said during a recent interview.

A few of Gilman's own children are in large classes, and she said she believes it's a problem that needs to be corrected throughout the district.

While she praised the district's teachers and other employees, she said classes of 30 and more are impossible for any teacher.

"My problem with PTR (the pupil-teacher ratio) in general is that PTR is a formula, but that doesn't mean if the formula is 1 to 29 there are only 29 in a classroom. We still have classes heavily loaded. The flip side of that is there are probably classes under that formula. To me, that is the No. 1 issue it'll solve most of the other problems."

Another related issue that Gilman foresees in the coming year is the budget.

"The district is in a very, very tight financial situation," she said. "My thought, now more than ever, is that we need to use all our resources for all the kids in the borough. Because of our limited resources, we had to lay off 56 teachers last year. That's increased the number of students in class, but also decreased programs."

She said she believes it is time for the district to begin consolidating its resources even if that means consolidating schools.

"I, in the last two weeks, have had several parents say to me they'd rather the district consolidate schools rather than cut, cut, cut teaching staff," she said.

She also added that consolidating schools and resources may allow better opportunities for students with more comprehensive programs.

"Research shows you need to have 350 to 400 in an elementary school to deliver all programs. High school is, I think 700 to 800," she said. "That said, the numbers will never work for our outlying areas, but we need to keep that in mind as we look at the broad picture of how to best meet the needs of students."

In addition to pooling resources, Gilman said she wants the board to carefully scrutinize every line item of the budget.

She also said she wants the district to be careful with the heightened attention to test scores under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"I think (test scores) portray a temperature of where child is," she said. "But temperature is not a full picture of whether a person is healthy."

These and other issues are bound to make it yet another frustrating year on the board, Gilman said.

But, she added, that's part of why she wants to stay.

"The work on the school board is not finished," she said. "I don't think it's a good time to jump ship."

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